Several incidents in recent months seem to indicate that the wave of “cancel culture” and political correctness is only becoming more intense. In particular, the claim of widespread systemic racism has reached a new crescendo since the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis in May.
“There are a lot of influences coming together at the moment,” says Jonathan Kay, longtime journalist and Canadian editor of the online magazine Quillette.
One is that people are spending more time than ever online due to the pandemic, he says, which can undermine trust and promote groupthink.
“There is a lot of arguing and partisanship, but without the normal social lubricants and trust-building that comes from seeing people in person,” Kay said in an interview.
In addition, in a “post-Christian and post-religious” West, he says, anti-racism seems to have taken on the trappings of a religion for some.
“It’s become fairly clear that a lot of the most fervent social-justice types are treating anti-racism as a new kind of religion,” he says.
“It offers its adherents a totalizing theory of evil in the universe, so these adherents see their opponents as heretics who are not just wrong but literally evil. And in the battle against evil, any tactic is permitted—even if such tactics would otherwise be seen as cruel or even sociopathic.”
Stockwell Day is one of those who have been broadsided by the current anti-racism trajectory—simply for stating his opinion.
As the protests and riots following Floyd’s death raged across the United States, the former Conservative cabinet minister participated in a discussion on CBC’s Power and Politics in which the topic was systemic racism in Canada. Asked to respond to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comment that Canada may have its own problems with systemic racism, Day denied that the country is systemically racist.
“We celebrate our diversity around the world and for the prime minister to insinuate—and it is an insinuation—that our system is systemically racist is wrong,” he said. “Yes, there’s a few idiot racists hanging around, but Canada is not a racist country and most Canadians are not racist.”
Reaction was fast and furious, and Day ended up quitting his commentary role at CBC as well as his corporate posts, and also apologized for his “insensitive and hurtful” comments, pledging to commit himself to “unending efforts to fight racism in all its forms.”
A few weeks later, CBC host Wendy Mesley was suspended after an “internal investigation” concluded that she had used unsavoury language during editorial meetings on two occasions. The offence was that Mesley had used the n-word—though “not as a slur,” she explained later in a tweet—in one meeting and when quoting the title of a book in another.
Nowhere is cancel culture more prevalent than on university campuses, and free speech and academic freedom have been the victims.
Wilfred Laurier University made headlines in November 2017 when graduate student and TA Lindsay Shepherd was infamously reprimanded by two professors and an administrator from the Diversity and Equity Office for showing a video in class of psychologist Jordan Peterson debating the use of gender pronouns. She was accused of creating a “toxic climate” for students and possibly violating the Ontario Human Rights Code.
David Haskell, a Laurier professor who supported Shepherd, says the “downward trend” of political correctness, intolerance, and censorship at universities is becoming more entrenched.
He points to a June 19 letter from Laurier’s president Deborah MacLatchy to faculty and students noting that in light of the anti-racism protests in the broader society, the university had developed an action plan in line with its core values of equity, diversity, and inclusion to address systemic racism on campus. The plan includes institution-wide initiatives as well as faculty- and student-focused initiatives.
In response, Haskell and his colleague William McNally wrote an open letter to MacLatchy challenging her claim of systemic racism at Laurier. They noted that the claim is not based on “quality, empirical evidence” and that the action plan would negatively impact academic freedom.
“This current incident at my university is emblematic of what is happening at campuses across North America and the U.K. Identity politics ideology—and the radical, unjustified conclusions it promotes—is being promoted as ‘Truth’ while empirically-backed challenges to those conclusions are being silenced,” Haskell said in an interview.
He said he and McNally were the only two among 550 full-time professors at Laurier who questioned the administration’s claim of systemic racism on campus “in the clear absence of a definition of the phenomenon and, two, empirical evidence of the phenomenon.”
“When professors are willing to let unjustified claims be presented as fact, the university as an institution is worthless,” he says.
One of the other problems contributing to the cancel culture climate is the discrimination against conservative and more heterodox academics when it comes to hiring practices, Haskell says.
“Many universities are considering compelling new hires to submit a statement of diversity, equity, and inclusion—some have done this already,” he says.
“In such a statement, one must swear allegiance to the notion of affirmative action and, in all likelihood, confess such imaginary sins as ‘white privilege.’ A conservative who believes that merit and competency alone should determine hiring—not racial and gender criteria—will never find academic employment again as these required statements become routine.”
With conservative candidates for professor positions discriminated against in this way, “the chance that diversity of opinion will win the day on campuses is not a reality,” he says.
The “woke” approach taken by universities, which is exacerbated by social media, serves to inform the mindset of students who go on to carry it into the workforce. These “ultra-progressive young staffers” can have a powerful effect in influencing their bosses or company policies, Kay says.
“Progressives have succeeded in medicalizing the vocabulary of disagreement. Even speaking about basic aspects of human biology is now seen as inherently ‘traumatic’ to people who reject biology in favour of esoteric gender constructs. And since none of us want to be seen as inflicting medical pain on people, these complaints serve as a trump card. And so a single person in an organization of 1,000 people now can veto whole policies or products,” he says.
“The whole thing is unsustainable.”
Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario. Follow him at @Miller_Shane94.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.